Vanity sizing and the modern woman

One of the coolest phrases I’ve heard a stylist utter is what Safina tells her clients who don’t like the number on their clothing tag. What she means is, instead of thinking of your dress size in terms of a number, ie., “I’m a 10”, just buy what fits and if the number bothers you, cut the tag out of the garment so you don’t see it. Chances are, that number has little basis in reality anyway.

Depending on the store or the brand, one woman can wear any number of sizes on the same day. Higher-end brands typically cut more “generously”, so a size 4 at a lower-end store like Zara or H&M becomes a 2 or even a 0 at BCBG.
Some blame vanity sizing for such discrepancies (the idea that women will feel better about themselves if they fit into a smaller size, so manufacturers lower the size on the label to keep customers happy). Others insist sizes vary according to the designer’s target market. Whatever the cause, it only takes a trip to the vintage store to see how sizing has changed over the decades.

I have tried on size 7 clothes made in the 70s that were too small, and yet today’s size 0 often fits me.
Working in the retail clothing industry, I have witnessed firsthand how happy women become when they fit into a smaller-sized dress than what they’re used to wearing. The size of a dress has the power to lift or lower a customer’s opinion of herself, a disturbing fact considering the utter randomness of the number. I learned to err on the side of bigger when beginning to dress a customer—you can always downsize which will make her feel good; however starting off with something too tight could send her straight out of the dressing room and through the door in a cloud of darkness.
Many women admit to feeling better about themselves when they wear a smaller-sized garment. Even the language we use–“I’m an 8”, rather than “I wear a size 8 dress”—lets our size define us. We may be better served by clothing sized according to hip, waist and bust measurements; however, many women underestimate these, too, and the truth might have the same effect as wearing a larger size. The question becomes: why is smaller better? And why does wearing a size 0 invoke near-hatred or at least disdain in other women? The flipside of vanity sizing is that slighter women are being sized out of existence.

I lost customers every day because the size 0 was too big for them. And, no they weren’t anorexic; just thin, as some of us are. And I can assure you they weren’t happy because the smallest size was too big for them. They just wanted a dress!
In a confusing climate of varying dress sizes where the number on the tag gives no useful information, a girl’s only recourse is to try on a range of sizes and leave her expectations at the dressing room door. If she doesn’t like the size she ends up with, she can do what Safina says and: “just cut it out.”

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